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Two Hundred Smiling Orphans

On a bright and sunny morning in the early January of 1994 I stood in the peaceful tranquillity of Janusz Korczak Square within the walls of Yad Vashem, Israel's famous monument to the victims of the Holocaust, which is perfectly sited near the Jerusalem Forest on the western slope of Mount Herzl (Mount of Remembrance), Jerusalem.  I gazed in awe there at a large sculptured statue portraying a bearded man embracing a dozen small children as if he was protecting them from something or someone wicked. I was, in fact, looking at a fine statue standing approximately twice life size and wonderfully cast in bronze.  I learned that it was sculptured in 1978/79 by Russian-Israeli artist Baruch (Boris) Saktsier (1942-2016) who named his creation 'Korczak and the Ghetto's Children'. There was just something about this intriguing statue that inspired me to endeavour to learn more. What was it doing there?  Who was Janusz Korczak? What deeds did he perform to earn a prominent place here at Yad Vashem?    
   
Janusz Korczak, then, was a Polish educator and doctor.  He was actually born Henryk Goldszmit, in Warsaw, on July 22nd. 1878 (or maybe 1879 as he was unsure of his birth year ~ no matter).  He was also an author of books concerning children. He had worked as a pediatrician at Warsaw's 'Bersohns and Baumans Children's Hospital'  and later travelled to Germany's capital city, Berlin, in order to work for the Orphans' Society there where, in 1909,  he met one Stefania Wilczńska (1886-1942) ~ or Stefa as she was affectionately known.  However Dr. Korczak made up his mind to return to Poland with the intention of setting up an orphanage, the Dom Sierot, for Jewish children in Warsaw and he invited Stefa to work with him there.  Originally born into the Jewish faith, he became an agnostic later in his life.      
   
Henryk Goldszmit, the author, had decided to use a pseudonym and chose the name Janusz Korczak, inspired by the title of a book that he admired called 'O Janaszu Korczaku i Pięknej Miecznikównie' (Janusz Korczak and the Pretty Swordsweeperlady) by Jósef Ignacy Kraszewski.    
   
In early August 1942 Dr. Korczak had in his care, at his orphanage, some 192 children aged between seven and fourteen years. The establishment had earlier been relocated to the Warsaw Ghetto of a Nazi occupied Poland.  On 5/6 August soldiers of the German army arrived at the orphanage to transport all of the children to Treblinka Extermination Camp.  Janusz Korczak had been offered sanctuary by the Polish underground organisation, Żegota, but repeatedly refused, preferring to remain with the children to the end. The children were requested, by Dr. Korczak, to dress in their finest clothes and were each allowed a favourite book or toy to take as a travelling companion.   Then Dr. Korczak and Stefa, accompanied by around ten other orphanage staff members and the children, all made their way down to the railway station in five orderly lines and were never seen or heard of again.  I have to ask myself  'Would I have done the same in his place?'  ~  Or was Janusz Korczak really the son of God?    
   
A Polish contemporary of Janusz Korczac, Yiddish writer Joshua Perle (1888-1943), wrote the following poignant words as he witnessed the group marching off  (Perle ultimately suffered the same fate as them, having been transported to Auschwitz II - Birkenhau concentration camp one year later).      
   
            'Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child,    
            without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots.  A few nurses    
            were followed by two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for        
            clothes, as they were being carried to the altar.    
   
   
TWO  HUNDRED  SMILING  ORPHANS    
by Alan S Jeeves    
   
   
   
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Playing in the sun.    
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Jolly, having fun.    
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Protected by their master...    
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Destined for disaster.    
   
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Understanding their new ways.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Enjoying happy days.    
Taught by Janusz Korczak,    
Father to them all,    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Learning to walk tall.    
   
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Trapped within a war.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Blind to what's in store.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Timid, weak and shy...    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
All condemned to die.    
   
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Marching down the street,    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
In the August heat.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
In his wake like ducks,    
Led by Janusz Korczak    
Author of their books.    
   
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Transported far away.    
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Facing their last day.    
Two Hundred smiling orphans    
Taken for a stroll,    
Along with Janusz Korczak    
Father of their soul.    
   
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Arrived at their new place.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Marching on apace.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Alighting from the train    
Would they and Janusz Korczak    
Ever smile again?    
   
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Now their dolor is told.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Their memoir to uphold.    
Two hundred smiling orphans    
Going on before,    
For they and Janusz Korczak    
Will smile for evermore.    
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
 
Alan-S-Jeeves
Written by Alan-S-Jeeves (Alan S Jeeves)
Published
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